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Is Being ‘Nice’ a Requirement for Leadership?

nice leaders

This may be a generational thing, but a growing idea lately is that leaders have to be “nice.” The idea is that to be effective, they have to be friendly with their team, create an atmosphere where people aren’t upset, and generally be, well, nice.

But looking back over my career, the greatest leaders I’ve had the honor to work with weren’t always very nice. They were driven, passionate, and hated doing work that was less than the best we could do. As a result, they weren’t hesitant to push their team and hurt some feelings in the process.

They were rarely nice.

In his amazing biography of the Apostle Paul, theologian N.T. Wright describes him as: 

Those who like their religion, or indeed their friendships served at medium temperature may find Paul’s personality hard to take: at once eager and vulnerable, both bold and (in his own words) “in your face” and then liable to serious self-doubt (“Was it all for nothing?”). One might suppose that, as a friend, he was, as we say, high maintenance, though the reward would be high performance.

I’m not advocating that leaders be jerks, and there are times to be sensitive to the people around you, but I am advocating that if you’re serious about changing the world, stop walking around on eggshells. Stop being so worried about offending people. And stop excusing work that’s less than the best just to make people feel good.

Recently, writing in the Wall Street Journal, Callum Borchers put it this way: 

Hollering in the workplace is often inappropriate—and can cross the line into abusive territory—and many companies have sought to eradicate it. As of last fall, toxic work cultures carry an adverse-health warning from the U.S. Surgeon General. Some workers tell me they shut down when a manager turns up the decibels, whether the message is well-intended or not.

But others say they’d rather get a tongue lashing and move on than deal with a boss who is passive aggressive and resurrects previously unmentioned transgressions long after the fact. Like a fiery politician or coach, a manager who yells can appear committed. Executives are often under pressure and, in the eyes of some employees, can be forgiven for losing their cool—especially if their criticisms are valid and they apologize for blowing up.

And if you’re working for one of those hard-driven leaders, look at the big picture. What can you learn if you can rise above your occasional hurt feelings? What is he or she accomplishing? Suck it up. Focus less on you and more on the work 

The apostle Paul definitely changed the world, and he did it because he understood the urgency of what he was doing and was determined not to let easily offended people hold him back.

That urgency is no less important today.

This article originally appeared here and is used by permission.